Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Before You Hit Send… by Patty Smith Hall

At various times in my writing career, I’ve been in the unique position of being a deciding factor in whether a manuscript was accepted for publication or not. As a first reader for Harlequin and now as an editor for Winged Publications, I’m often the first person to see your manuscript after you hit send. 

So many times, I wish I could have caught the writer before he or she hit send. Then I would have shared the five things to do before you send your manuscript off.

1) Please make sure your manuscript is in a readable font and double spaced. 

I read a lot of submissions. A. LOT. Font size and line spacing have become very important to me. So sending your manuscript to me in sand script or even worse, italics sand script that’s single spaced will not give me (or any other editor I know) a warm fuzzy feeling toward you or your manuscript. Your best bet? Check the publisher’s guidelines and follow them to the letter.

2) Alleviate Weasel Words

We all use them, words we just love to write into our manuscripts over and over again. But readers just find them annoying, and really, it just lazy writing. So do a word search and just replace or delete them. It’s just that simple.

3) There has to be Conflict 

Years ago, a writing friend of mine complained about her unpublished status. She was a great writer, had even placed in several contests but had never been offered that elusive contract. I read the first couple of chapters from her new manuscript and saw the problem at once. 

No conflict. 

Whether you like it or not, your story needs some kind of conflict to pull the characters (and readers) through to the end of the story. It’s the reason why people read—they want to see how the characters respond to certain situations and work things out. If there’s no conflict, what’s the point of reading (or writing!) the story? So make sure you have a strong conflict from the first page.

4) Get rid of Passive Writing 

Early in my writing career, my critique partners dubbed me the Queen of ‘ing’ words. Why, you may ask? Because I was notorious for writing sentences with ‘was’ followed by an ‘ing’ word. I quickly learned the advantages of a Flip Dictionary in changing my passive writing to using a stronger word choice. 

So how do you identify passive writing? Words ending in ‘ing’ and ‘ly’ are the usual culprits. What I do is do a search of the word, ‘was’ throughout my manuscript, then I go through each notation. If you have an ‘ing’ or ‘ly’ word following was, you need to replace it with a stronger verb. A Flip Dictionary is a great resource in finding strong verbs—I use mine so much, I’ve gone through two in the last fifteen years.

5) Ask yourself—Are you tough enough to handle the editor’s response? 

When I look back on my career, I’ve realized I’m glad it took me ten years to sign my first book contract. It wasn’t that my writing wasn’t ready—no, the problem lay solely in me. I wasn’t ready to listen to what critique partners and contest judges were saying about my work. I simply heard the rejection and acted accordingly. I moped, slammed cabinet doors and whined to my husband. I may have even stomped my foot on occasion. 

Rejection and correction is a huge part of the writing business, and it takes a thick skin to handle it. Ninety-nine out of a hundred submissions are going to be rejected, and the one that was accepted will be red lined with edits before the author even signs the contract. Remember-this is a business. It’s not personal. So kick cabinets, eat a carton of ice cream but be ready to get back to work. It’s the only way you’re going to grow as a writer. 

One more thing—whatever you do, don’t bad mouth an editor or publisher online. The writing world is small, and people will remember that kind of behavior long after it’s over. If you have to complain, talk it over with a writing friend or your critique group but don’t broadcast your disappointment for everyone to see.


Question: What preparations do you make before sending your manuscript to a publisher or agent? What are your weasel words?

The five things to do before you send your manuscript off. via @pattywrites #SeriouslyWrite


Patty Smith Hall lives in North Georgia with her husband of 36+ years, Danny. Her passion is 

to write tender romances based in little-known historical moments. The winner of the 2008 ACFW Genesis award in historical romance, she is published with Love Inspired Historical, Barbour and Winged Publishing, and is a contributor to the Seriously Writing blog as well as Journey magazine. Patty is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.